Covid: Thousands attend Israel funeral for orthodox rabbi

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The leader was revered and had been head of the influential Brisk yeshiva in Jerusalem

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox mourners have gathered in Jerusalem to attend the funeral of a top rabbi, in breach of Israel's coronavirus regulations.

Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, 99, died on Sunday following months of ill health after contracting Covid-19.

The country is currently under a third national lockdown, but police did not intervene to disperse the crowd.

The scenes sparked backlash from deputy prime minister Benny Gantz ahead of a vote to extend lockdown rules.

"Millions of families and children are locked in their homes and abide by the rules while thousands of Haredim crowd the funeral, most of them even without masks," Mr Gantz tweeted describing it as evidence of "unequal enforcement".

"We will not agree to the continuation of an ineffective fake lockdown. Either everyone is locked down - or everyone opens. The days of indulgence are over."

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A police spokesman told local media: "I won't go and confront 20,000 people because I'm not capable of it"
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The country's current lockdown is due to expire at midnight, unless extended

Relations between Israel's power-sharing coalition partners, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the centrist Mr Gantz, collapsed last month.

They and their parties will now face an early election in March - the fourth in two years. Ultra-Orthodox Israelis, or Haredim, make up a key part of Mr Netanyahu's voting base so the perceived double-standard about lockdown enforcement has become a big political issue.

There has been clashes reported across the country in recent weeks when officials have tried to challenge groups flouting social distancing guidelines - including by keeping orthodox schools open and holding mass events.

Israel has been racing ahead of other nations to vaccinate its population. More than a third of the country's 9m population have had their first dose and some 1.7m have received two.

But despite health data showing protection is very high for those vaccinated, new infections have continued to grow by thousands daily.

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Covid-19: Vaccine divides in the Middle East